Everyone loves a monkey, right? They are cute, clever and cheeky. Most of us feel warm and at peace with life when we see pictures and nature documentaries of them playing and swinging through trees.
They are our closest cousins. Loveable creatures. Some parents even call their children “cheeky monkeys”.
But what about the monkeys that spend their whole lives restrained in laboratories, with scientists hurting them to see what happens?
The hunt for a coronavirus vaccine has been horrendous for some animals. As part of the drive to save human lives, thousands of cheeky monkeys, ferrets, cats, mice and hamsters have been deliberately infected and experimented on in labs.
Pfizer and BioNTech, the big pharma companies behind the vaccine that caused excitement yesterday, have treated monkeys and mice with contempt. While their human researchers have been protected with elaborate PPE, the animals in their care have been trapped and deliberately infected. Some were injected with an inoculation first and some weren’t.
For animal lovers, that creates a dilemma. In what circumstances will you turn a blind eye to animals being harmed?
Many people think that being vegan is just about not eating meat and animal products but it is really so much more than that. Veganism, as defined by the Vegan Society, is a bid “to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
Everyone wants to see the back of Covid-19 but, as an animal lover and a vegan, should I accept a jab that’s the result of animal cruelty? I say no – and not just for moral reasons.
There is convincing evidence that most epidemics and pandemics, including Covid-19, have actually been caused by humans “playing god” and exploiting animals. In August, a white paper found that nearly every major zoonotic disease outbreak over the last 120 years is inextricably linked to animal exploitation, including meat consumption.
The human cost is huge: even before Covid-19, two million people were dying from zoonotic diseases each year.
A separate report from the UN said the number of zoonotic epidemics – the ones that can be transmitted from animals to people – is rising, from Ebola to Sars to West Nile virus and Rift Valley fever.
The authors warned that although the world is treating the health and economic symptoms of this coronavirus pandemic, governments are ignoring the root causes: humans’ destruction of nature and meat eating.
We need to wake up. Since it was exploiting animals that got us into this mess, it’s both immoral and ill-advised to exploit more animals now.
Vivisection is perhaps the wickedest form of animal cruelty. An animal dies in a British lab every eight seconds, often in horrifying circumstances. Rabbits have chemicals poured into their eyes and are then left to endure weeks of agony. Animals are injected in their brains and faces, dipped in hot water and subjected to electric shocks. Pregnant sheep and their unborn lambs get surgically mutilated, partially suffocated and then killed.
Ahead of the Iraq war, scientists sought to find out what happens to a wounded creature who receives further wounds. To do this, they attacked pigs. One of the medics explained: “My pig? They shot him in the face with a 9mm pistol, and then six times with an AK-47 and then twice with a 12-gauge shotgun. And then he was set on fire.” Finally, after a 15-hour ordeal, the pig died.
It is supreme human arrogance to think that we can inflict this torture on animals in labs and slaughterhouses without it coming back to bite us. This year, we saw again that it does.
Factory farms, slaughterhouses, vivisection laboratories and all these other sites need to be closed for good. We should only keep a few standing as monuments for future generations to visit and shake their heads at how cruel and stupid we were before we woke up.
You might argue that the coronavirus pandemic is so serious that in just this exceptional case it is okay to exploit animals, for the greater good. And after all, those experiments are done now.
But the “just this once” argument never ends. Countless meat-eaters say they know it’s wrong to eat meat and they have even started to eat a bit less — but what comfort is that to the animals they do eat? More than 70 billion land animals are still slaughtered each year.
I won’t be accepting the vaccine. After what has been done to so many defenceless animals, it feels wrong to me. When I say it’s time to stop exploiting animals, I really mean it.
Chas Newkey-Burden is a freelance journalist.